Tactics truck: Why Alexis, Giroud & Welbeck works so well

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That might have been Arsenal’s best performance of the season thus far. Scoring four times against a team who had conceded just two goals in their previous seven games is not to sniffed at. It’s somewhat ironic that a cobbled-together XI managed to put together our most fluent 90 minutes of 2014/15.

Key to that fluency was the attacking trio of Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck. They started in tandem at the Hawthorns at the back end of November, but despite encouraging signs were split up for the subsequent games against Southampton and Stoke. I hope Arsene Wenger sees fit to stick with them now: they appear to be a potent combination.

There’s a lot to like about the way the three strikers combine. Few forwards offer quite as much defensively as Alexis and Welbeck, who work tirelessly to protect their full-back. Both players also have the technical skill and tactical intelligence to join up with Arsenal’s approach play when required.

Giroud was outstanding on Saturday, and it’s surely no coincidence that he looks more of an asset when complemented by attackers with speed and dribbling ability. However, he deserves a measure of credit for being prepared to adapt his game. Against Newcastle, he regularly drifted in to wide areas to allow Alexis and Welbeck spells in the middle.

His Squawka heat map demonstrates that he was willing to work the channels, particularly on the right, when required. He may be the team’s focal point, but he is determined not to weigh down a mobile attack by becoming an immobile anchor.

There’s a growing camaraderie there, too. These players seem to have embraced the challenge of competition, and are working hard to discover a way to play together. Giroud is not affronted by Welbeck’s presence, and Welbeck in turn has not piped up about being ousted to the flank. Alexis meanwhile, just wants to play anywhere with anyone.

However, what I like most of all is that fielding this front three almost guarantees that Arsenal have a bigger presence in the penalty area. Last season, crosses would flash across a box occupied primarily by opposition defenders. If it wasn’t within Giroud’s reach, it would generally be cleared without danger: No longer: Welbeck and Sanchez both have the stamina and the willingness to get in the box to join Giroud on a regular basis.

That much was evident from our winning goal at West Brom. When Santi Cazorla sprinted to the byline, Giroud’s mere presence at the near post was enough to attract a defender out of the centre, granting Welbeck the space to charge in and score.

Since then, the interchanging movement has only become more sophisticated. The opening goal against Newcastle was a perfect example: when Alexis crossed from the right, Welbeck and Giroud engaged in criss-crossing diagonal runs, the Englishman darting from far post to near and his French counterpart moving in the opposite direction. Their markers were baffled, and Giroud was able to climb high to score.

Our third goal came from another cross from the right. This time, Giroud made his preferred darting run to the dear post. Beyond him, Welbeck sprinted towards goal before pulling back in to space around the penalty spot — a classic Thierry Henry strategy. His positioning created doubt in the mind of Fabricio Colocccini, and allowed Giroud to nip in to score.

Arsenal’s improved penalty box presence has another benefit at the other end of the pitch: having the height of both Welbeck and Giroud in our area does offer a measure of insurance at set-pieces.

Arsenal looked as impressive going forward against Newcastle as they have done all season, and for once it wasn’t solely down to the individual brilliance of Alexis Sanchez. This new front three is already working. Let’s give it the time it needs to get even better.

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ps. Thanks to Arsenalist for the goal clips for me to deface, and sorry for reminding everyone of the horrors of Andy Townsend’s Tactics truc.

Arsenal 3-0 Burnley: Arsene Goes Back to the Future with 4-4-2

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This might have been Arsenal’s best 90 minutes of the season…

There were dazzling 20 minute spells against Manchester City and Hull, but neither of those was sustained for an entire match. The wins against Aston Villa and Galatasaray might have been more eye-catching, but there were mitigating circumstances which took the shine off both those victories: Villa were afflicted with illness, while Gala were suffering from a severe case of Felipe Melo. For different reasons, both their defences spent most of the game shitting themselves.

Burnley might be the weakest team in the Premier League, but they couldn’t blame bad health or errant Brazilians for this defeat. Arsenal were simply superior. Even when the half-time whistle sounded with the score at 0-0, I wasn’t concerned. The team looked confident, patient, and in control.

Finally, 4-4-2 is back…

I honestly didn’t think I’d see the day.

When the line-ups were first released, the selection of both Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta was met with some consternation. However, the thought process behind the decision soon became clear, as Arsenal lined up in an old-fashioned 4-4-2 with Alexis playing up top alongside Danny Welbeck.

Having relied upon the solidity of a midfield three for the best part of a decade, Arsene was clearly feeling a little insecure about reverting to a two, so opted for the conservative choice of Arteta and Flamini.

That shouldn’t come as any enormous surprise. Think of the great Wenger sides of the first half of his reign: he consistently favoured two deep-lying central midfielders who could break up with the play, with roaming wingers and two strikers ahead. Arteta and Flamini aren’t exactly Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva, but they’re the closest thing we’ve got.

The results have been good, too. Since fielding both our defensive midfielders in tandem, we’ve kept two consecutive clean sheets — and that’s with Nacho Monreal at centre-half.

An Arsenal side struggling for balance has found equilibrium by reintroducing the formation that brought Wenger the majority of his success. It’ll be fascinating to see how frequently we see this new 4-4-2 deployed. With Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil and Walcott all to return to the starting XI, it’s difficult to see it becoming the default system.

The two Chambo’s are linking up well…

Along with all the praise for the team’s obvious star on Saturday, the performances of the two players on Arsenal’s right side also deserve a mention. Calum Chambers had a stormer from full-back, getting his first senior goal and another assist. Ahead of him, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked to be regaining confidence and composure on the wing.

It’s clear these two share a great understanding. It seems Chambers has not only replaced Carl Jenkinson as the team’s back-up right-back, but also as the Ox’s best mate.

Alexis is a leader…

Leadership comes in many different forms. Alexis doesn’t have the physical stature of a Patrick Vieira. He doesn’t even speak the language, so can’t command or cajole his team-mates with words.

Instead, Alexis leads by example. He leads by being brave enough to constantly demand the ball. He thrives on responsibility. Nor is he scared to attempt the improbable, as with his 6’10” leap to put the Gunners ahead. When the going gets tough, Alexis gets going.

Much has been made of Arsene Wenger’s decision to hand Alexis a spot in the middle. However, the truth is that he’s influential wherever he plays. He was always going be a central figure. Alexis’ place at the heart of this team is contingent on his personality, not his position.